David Golinkin

On harming innocent Arabs

What Jewish law and tradition have to say about the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir and other attacks

On July 2nd, in the wake of the brutal murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah hy”d, three young religious Jews apparently kidnapped and brutally murdered Muhammad Abu Khdeir. In addition, Jews shouted “death to Arabs” at violent demonstrations in Jerusalem; police rescued eight Arabs from the mob and 47 Jews were arrested. What do Jewish law and tradition have to say about these phenomena?

At first glance, one could say that, compared to our Arab neighbors, these are minor incidents. In the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been killed by their fellow Muslims, Muslims have killed large numbers of Christians such as the Copts in Egypt, and “honor killings” happen with some frequency in Israeli Arab villages and in the West Bank and Gaza.Finally, for 100 years, innocent Israelis such as Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal have been murdered by Arabs simply because they were Jewish. And now Hamas is shooting 60-100 rockets per day at innocent civilians all over the State of Israel.

I would reply that the Jewish people has never measured morality by the standards of its frequently cruel neighbors but by our own very high moral standards based on our belief in God, the Torah and Jewish law. Our role models are Abraham, Hillel and Maimonides; not Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah. Therefore, we must ask what Jewish law and tradition have to say about the actions described above. The answer is very clear: Jewish law and tradition are thoroughly opposed to the murder of and attacks against innocent non-Jews.

As Rachel Fraenkel, Naftali’s mother said:

There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality or the age. There is no justification, no forgiveness, and no atonement for any murder.

Murder is forbidden in a number of different places in the Torah. Genesis 9:5-6 lists murder as one of the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah; the Ten Commandments include “Lo tirzah“, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13); while Exodus 21:14 outlaws premeditated murder.

All of the Sages and the classic halakhic authorities agree that it is forbidden for a Jew to murder a non-Jew, but they explain this prohibition in different ways. Some rabbis say that it is forbidden for a Jew to murder a non-Jew since Jews are also obligated by the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah. Others say that a Jew may not murder a Gentile because of Lo Tirzah. Some say that this is a rabbinic prohibition. Still others say that it is forbidden for a Jew to kill a non-Jew, but that the punishment will come from God and not from a court of law.

A powerful expression of the Sages’ opposition to all murder is found in the original version of a famous Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5): “Therefore Adam was created alone to teach you that whoever destroys one soul is considered by Scripture as if he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever sustains one soul is considered by Scripture as if he had sustained the entire world.” Later versions added “one [Jewish] soul”, but the original reading does not distinguish between Jew and Gentile.

The young Jews described in the question hate non-Jews in general and Arabs in particular. Indeed, Talmudic literature contains many negative statements about non-Jews. This is not surprising, considering the Roman persecutions of the Jews which lasted for hundreds of years, but it also contains many statements such as the following:

“[Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is adam [=man] who was created in the image of God. Still greater was the love shown to him since he was created in the image of God, as it is written (Genesis 9:6) ‘in the image of God he made man’ ” (Avot 3:14). In other words, all men (adam) were created in the image of God, not just Jews.

As rabbis and educators, it is our job to teach our children that just as we must fight and even kill terrorists who want to destroy us in self-defense, we must do our utmost to protect innocent civilians. Indeed, that is what the IDF tries to do in all its operations, and our soldiers have frequently died as a result of their attempts not to harm civilians.

The young extremists described above have committed terrible acts of Hillul Hashem, the desecration of God’s name (Leviticus 22:32). The world media has used their actions to show that Israel and the Jews have no respect for other religions and that we are murderers.

The Sages made a series of rabbinic enactments mipnei darkei shalom, because of the ways of peace, including feeding non-Jews, visiting their sick, and burying their dead. (Gittin 61a and parallels) These sources do not relate to our specific topic, but attacking innocent Arabs and murdering an innocent Arab child are all clearly a violation of this Talmudic principle.

In a famous Talmudic story (Shabbat 31a), Hillel summarized the entire Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others, this is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary, go and learn”. For 1900 years, Jews were persecuted by non-Jews. Now, when we have our own sovereign State of Israel where we are the majority, we must follow the dictum of Hillel.

The Torah contains many mitzvot related to the Ger Toshav or resident alien (e.g. Leviticus 19:33-34). While there is disagreement among rabbis as to whether these laws apply to non-Jews living in Israel today, the spirit of these Biblical and Rabbinic laws demands that we treat all non-Jews in Israel with respect.

The perpetrators of these attacks believe that they are acting according to halakhah, which takes precedence over the laws of the State of Israel. They are wrong. As I have explained elsewhere (Responsa in a Moment, Jerusalem, 2000, pp. 90-91), the democratic institutions of the State of Israel are not something to be “tolerated” outside of Jewish law. Rather, they are part and parcel of Jewish law.

First of all, Jews must obey the laws of the State of Israel because of “dina d’malkhuta dina” – “the law of the land is the law” (Nedarim 28a and parallels). Second, throughout Jewish history, every Jewish kahal (community), was governed democratically on the basis of a Talmudic passage (Bava Batra 8b). The State of Israel is the modern equivalent of the kahal, and its democratic institutions must be treated with the same respect. Finally, Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Shaul Yisraeli, and Hayyim David Halevy have explained that, in our day, the democratically elected government and leaders of Israel have taken the place of the king and must be obeyed accordingly.

Many of the actions described above were acts of revenge. The word nakam or nekama (revenge, vengeance) appears 44 times in the Bible. Some verses talk about human vengeance, but in most cases, the Bible talks about revenge that was taken or will be taken by God, not by human beings. For example, “God of vengeance, Lord, God of vengeance appear.” (Psalms 94:1)

As for human beings, the Bible tells them not to take revenge: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your people.” (Leviticus 19:18). “Do not say: I will do to him what he did to me. I will pay the man what he deserves.” (Proverbs 24:29)

The Sages understood very well that revenge also destroys the person taking revenge. “Who seeks revenge, destroys his [own] home” (Sanhedrin 102b). “[Vengeance] can be compared to a person who is cutting meat and accidentally cuts his other hand; will his other hand then cut his first hand?!” (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4)

In conclusion, “religious” youths who attack innocent Arabs and murder an innocent Arab child are transgressing all of the above Jewish laws and teachings. The authorities must deal swiftly and severely with these phenomena and the religious Zionist community must do some serious soul-searching and change the education which is being given to these young people. And the sooner the better.

About the Author
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. in Jerusalem.